Posts Tagged ‘Private Healthcare Companies’

Majority of GPsTrust Labour to Support NHS

November 21, 2019

Yesterday’s I newspaper also carried some very interesting and important news in an article by Paul Gallagher. The article ‘GPs ‘shifting support to Lib Dems’ is mainly about the majority of GPs supporting the Liberal Democrats rather than Labour or the Tories. But the really important stuff is in the last paragraph, where it reports

But Labour remained the party GPs believed would look after the NHS – 30 per cent trusted Labour, 20 per cent opted for the Liberal Democrats and 14 per cent chose the Conservatives. Some 30 per cent chose “none of the above”.

This follows the Tories promising that they will increase spending on the NHS by £20bn a year by 23-4, Labour stating it would be £26 bn a year and the Fib Dems that they would increase it by £35 bn over the next five years. Apparently only 20 per cent of GPs say the will vote Tory at the next election, whereas 30 per cent said they would at the last one. Support for Labour was also down 10 per cent. 31 per cent of GPs had said they would vote Labour at the last election, but now it’s only 21 per cent. 31 per cent of GPs, however, say they will vote Lib Dem, up from 19 per cent at the last election. This is according to a survey conducted by GPonline.

A few remarks on this. Firstly, this poll only records the way those GPs, who responded to the survey said they would vote. These may unrepresentative of the great majority of GPs for various reasons. For example, the GPs, who replied are obviously those with the time and motivation to vote. Others may be too busy or otherwise not motivated.

Secondly, it shows that the Lib Dems have eaten into the Labour vote through Jo Swinson presenting herself as a progressive alternative to Labour’s extremism and anti-Semitism. But this is a mistake. Labour is neither anti-Semitic nor extreme. Corbyn’s policies are simply a return to the social democratic consensus which delivered over three decades of prosperity and economic growth after the War. And the Lib Dems are not in any way progressive. Jo Swinson consistently voted with the Conservative government, far more so than many leading members of the Tory party. She fully supported the swingeing welfare cuts, the privatisation of the NHS, the bedroom tax and other Tory attacks on the poor and vulnerable. How progressive is someone really, who wants to put up a statue to Margaret Thatcher? Clearly she isn’t, and only 2 per cent more of her party support Remain than Labour. As she seems ready to do a deal with the Tories and go into coalition with them as he predecessor Nick Clegg did, rather than support Corbyn, it seems that she personally only regards supporting Remain as a temporary electoral strategy. If there’s a hung parliament, you can bet she’ll be round Johnson like a shot pledging her support.

I also feel that belief in the Labour party as the true supporters of the NHS would be higher, if Blair’s new Labour hadn’t been so determined to privatise it through the introduction of privately run health centres, the award of contracts to private healthcare firms, including GP services, and the introduction of the Community Care Groups, who were empowered to raise funds through private enterprise and contract in private services. It’s these Blairite policies, which spring from Blair’s own Thatcherism, that Corbyn intends to remove.

The real message, for anyone who genuinely prizes our NHS, is that only Corbyn’s Labour party can be trusted with it. Not Johnson, not Swinson, just Corbyn. 

JOE Video of Farage as Trump’s ‘Mini-Me’

November 20, 2019

This is another satirical video from those merry funsters at JOE. Unlike the others I’ve posted, it’s not musical. It simply pokes fun at Farage and his megalomaniac ambitions as a kind of mini-me of Trump. It seems to be based on footage of a Trump rally at which a small boy came on to the stage. Except that the child’s head has been replaced with Farage’s.

The video begins with Trump introducing Farage to the crowd as the man behind Brexit. Mini-Farage then walks on stage, to be picked up by Trump. The Orange Buffoon asks the lad what he’s called. Mini-Farage answers, ‘Well, people in Oxfordshire call me Farage’. Trump also asks him if he’d like to go, or stay with Trump. After thinking about it, Farage replies ‘Stay with Trump’.

The video comes from 2016 when Farage and UKIP were far stronger than they were. If memory serves me right, it was before Farage left to found the Brexit Party and UKIP was taken over by Batten, who introduced into it the far right internet personalities Carl ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Benjamin, Mark ‘Count Dankula’ Meechan and Paul Joseph Watson. Instead of boosting UKIP’s fortunes, their arrival has very effectively destroyed it, leading to the massive implosion after the local and European elections and the acrimonious recriminations that have broken out since.

Farage now appears to be pinning his hopes on becoming a political force with the Brexit party. But he’s now stood a very great number of his candidates down in Tory constituencies so as not to split the right-wing Brexit vote, the Tories are demanding the removal of the rest of his people, and the former candidates themselves are angry and considering legal action. And he himself is not standing for election, as he’s never personally won an election before. His view of himself and his party as becoming a significant power in British politics is thus probably more than a little exaggerated.

But at that time he was running around with Trump at Republican and American Conservative conferences and other gatherings. And he was very much boosting Trump and his policies as well as his own. I don’t doubt for a single minute that Farage would happily give Trump everything he wants from a Brexit Britain – our agriculture, manufacturing industry and a privatised NHS. Farage has said himself that ‘we may have to move to an insurance-based system’, which is precisely what American private healthcare companies, as well as British firms like Virgin Healthcare, Circle, BUPA and so on want to hear.

But Farage’s fortunes have definitely waned, and it’s Boris who’s now occupying No. 10. But he also wants to give Trump what he wants. And despite Tory splutterings that the NHS was ‘off the table’, they held six secret meetings with Trump’s negotiators about it. Boris Johnson sees it very much as something that is for sale. He just doesn’t want to tell the British public about it, just as Thatcher in her memoirs also lied, claiming that she didn’t want to sell off the NHS. It’s now Johnson who’s running around as Trump’s mini-me.

Don’t be tricked by either Farage, Johnson or Blue Lib Dem Swinson, who would also like to sell off the NHS. If you value the Health Service and wish to defend it, you really have no choice but to vote for Corbyn.

Excellent News! Labour Plans to Abolish Fees for Dental Check-Ups

November 17, 2019

This is another really great policy from the Labour Party. They’ve announced that they plan to abolish the £22.70 fee for dental check-ups, and Corbyn has said that the ultimate aim is to abolish all fees for dentistry.

According to a piece Mike has reblogged from elsewhere, the fees were first introduced in 1951 to pay for the Korean War. It notes that one in five adults puts off going to the dentist because of the cost, and that ‘worrying numbers’ are turning to the internet for kits for scaling and makeshift fillings, which can cause serious problems.

515,000 patients a year go to A&E or their GPs for treatment for toothache, which costs the Health Service £38 million a year. Over a hundred children have rotten teeth removed in hospital every day, and decay is the leading cause of hospital admissions for children aged from five to nine. Ninety per cent of those cases can be prevented by early treatment.

In addition to abolishing the fees for ordinary check-ups, Labour also wish to remove them for oral cancer examinations, X-rays, clinical scaling and polishing and emergency treatment.

Mike adds that it would also be great if Labour could also ensure that everyone has access to an NHS dentist. He hasn’t seen one since June last year, 2018, because the dental service in mid-Wales was handed over to a private company. He concludes

Health service privatisation – it will always leave us short-changed. 

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/16/great-labour-election-promises-theyll-scrap-fees-for-dental-check-ups/

Mike’s right again, and this is an issue that goes back years. I’ve read a number of newspaper reports about people missing out on dental treatment because they can’t afford it. And there is a crushing shortage of NHS dentists. We’ve had problems finding suitable dentists in my part of south Bristol, as a number of them went private and immediately put their prices up. Some of this problem comes down to the profit motive at the heart of any system of private healthcare. Where it exists, there will always be the motive to charge inflated fees and concentrate on those, who are better health, rather than those who need much more treatment, because the latter aren’t as profitable.

And like the other issues with healthcare in this care, it was caused by Maggie Thatcher. I can remember how there was a massive dispute between her government and the dentists over funding, with the result that many split off from the NHS and went private. They claimed that they simply couldn’t survive with what the government was prepared to pay them. Thatcher, I remember, put the blame on them for demanding too much. I don’t know which side was right, but instinct tells me it wasn’t the Tories. Thatcher was determined to privatise the NHS in toto, but was prevented by a cabinet revolt. She carried on, however, with a campaign to encourage 10 per cent of the British population to take out private health insurance, and a programme of limited privatisation. Some of the auxiliary services for the NHS were opened up to private contractors. The department specialising in in vitro fertilisation – test tube children – was privatised. She also introduced fees for eye tests at the opticians.

The Tories are past masters at creating an industrial dispute, which will allow them to attack a particular industry and the trade unions or professional associations for its workers. We’ve seen how she did it to the miners, in order to break the NUM and close down most of the mining industry. I think she did something similar with the dentists. She manufactured a dispute with them, so that she could force some at least out of the NHS and created a private dental service.

And thanks to her, people are missing the dentist and their health is suffering.

Labour’s plan to abolish dental fees are needed. People really do need proper dental examinations. A few years ago I was diagnosed with a mouth condition that could have become serious and which needed monitoring, and I’m very sure I wasn’t alone. People are damaging their health, possibly seriously, by not going to the dentist and having the examinations and work they need done.

And it is the fault of the Tories.

Thatcher and her legacy have been catastrophic for this country, its industries and working people. But she’s still a molten idol to the Tories, Lib Dems and the Blairites. They have to be defeated, and Thatcher’s vile legacy consigned to the dustbin it deserves.

Our health, and our Health Service, cannot afford not to.

 

Medical Stunt Tells BoJob his Hospital Visit is a Publicity Stunt

November 5, 2019

As Mike posted a few days ago, BoJob was booed out of Addenbrook’s hospital in Cambridge, when he turned up for a visit. And one medical student, Julia Simons, was so disgusted by this blatant piece of electioneering that she confronted him with it. This video from the Groaniad shows her trying to question our disaster of a PM as he walks out of the hospital to his limo surrounded by his bodyguards and minders, pointedly refusing to answer her questions. She also gives a brief interview explaining her attempt to confront him to the Groan’s reporter afterward.

She asks him, ‘I’d also like to ask you about your awareness of the health crisis and the climate crisis? I won’t be working in a system like the one today … Have you read the IPCC report? Do you understand that? Have you read it? Do you understand the IPCC report?’

She gets no answer, and slams the car door shut.

She says to the reporter afterward:

Basically, I just came out of clinic and I was told that Boris Johnson was coming, and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness’, like as a normal person you never get that opportunity to say something to someone like that. I really want to ask him, ‘What’s next?’ And I was told I wasn’t allowed to ask him any questions. Which is a really good sign, I think, that this is a PR stunt. People who work in this hospital know the reality of cuts, like I’m a medical student, I don’t know the cuts in the way these people do. They were all really angry to hear he’s coming here for a PR stunt, ’cause we know what cuts have done to our NHS. We know the NHS is being privatised even if it’s not explained in explicit terms.   

The reporter asks ‘What’s the mood among the staff at the hospital having had Boris Johnson come in?’

She replies

Oooh, we weren’t told he was coming, which is a really big sign. As a Prime Minister you should be proud of how you’re leading your country. We were told that we weren’t allowed to know he was here. But I think it’s one of frustration because, as doctors we practice evidence-based medicine and politics should be evidence-based too. And yet the health outcomes from his policy changes evidence-wise, that doesn’t work and we shouldn’t keep doing that. And he’s too much of a coward to talk to any real members of staff rather than some random medical student, who happened to get in front of some cameras about the reality of those cuts.

Very well said!

Of course it was a publicity stunt, just as all the Tories’ visits to hospitals and doctors’ surgeries have been. And I’m not surprised that the staff were told to keep schtumm. They know perfectly well that the Health Service is being privatised, and that it is all driven by ideology. The neurosurgeon, Humanist and philosopher Ray Tallis and Jackie Davis make this absolutely clear in their book, NHS-SOS. Despite all the verbiage about introducing private sector discipline and skills into the NHS, the reality is that private medicine and hospitals actually provide a poorer service than state medicine. But Tory ideology, plus their class interest as people with private business interests themselves mean that they are promoting the privatisation of the NHS for all they and their backers in private healthcare companies can get.

When Simons talks about evidence-based medicine, she means, of course, treatment that has been subject to thorough scientific testing and proper statistical analysis. But these are alien to the Tories, who lie through their teeth and won’t release proper statistics on anything whatsoever, because in healthcare, and so often generally, the proper stats flatly contradict their lies. See Mike’s experience of how Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP tried everything they could to refuse him the stats for the number of people, who had died after being declared fit for work by Atos, then handling the fitness to work tests.

Julie Simons is obviously an extremely conscientious student, who cares deeply for the NHS and the care it provides. She should make an extremely good doctor. She also joins a long line of other doctors, surgeons and medical professionals, who’ve also tried to confront the Tories about the catastrophic effect their vile policies are having.

But I am also afraid that, by daring to confront BoJob, she will also have her card marked as a troublemaker and will be subject to some of the appalling harassment and abuse that the Tories and their troll army have inflicted on others, who have confronted them like this.

The only politician and party that will keep the NHS publicly owned, providing free medicine at the point of use, is Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. Vote for them, and get the Tories and Lib Dems out.

Does Anybody Really Believe the Tories’ Fracking Halt Isn’t an Election Stunt?

November 5, 2019

I know this story is a few days old, but it bears repeating, if only only to remind everyone that Tories are flagrant liars. On Monday, Mike put up a piece commenting on the Tories’ decision to stop fracking. But only for the moment. It’s just a temporary halt, while they consider the situation. Both Andrew Adonis and Jeremy Corbyn called it out as an election stunt. Adonis said that the ban would last all the way until December 13th, the day after the election. Corbyn added that Labour really would ban fracking. And that would be the real change. He also reminded people that BoJob had called fracking ‘glorious news for humanity’ and that we couldn’t trust him. No, we can’t. And certainly not the people in the areas where they’re drilling for shale gas, who’ve suffered earth tremors and other disastrous environmental effects.

And Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey made some very acute observations on the way Andrea Leadsom had phrased the news. She described fracking as ‘a glorious opportunity’ and the decision to halt it ‘a disappointment’. Long Bailey said that usually the Tories wait until after an election before breaking their promises, but this time they’ve made a U-turn within hours of announcing it. She also concluded that this showed they had no intention of stopping fracking, and it was all an electoral stunt.

As did Mike, who wrote

So the choice is simple: A makeshift, make-believe, pretend freeze on this dangerous process under the Tories that will last until just after the general election – or a genuine ban under Labour.

Boris Johnson is a proven liar. Jeremy Corbyn is known to keep his word.

Who do you believe?

Election 2019: Tory halt on fracking condemned as a lie and a stunt

There shouldn’t be any question about it. Johnson’s a liar, and the Tories have lied again and again. Johnson said that the NHS was not on the table in his Brexit negotiations with Donald Trump. Except it was, and there were six secret meetings about it between British and American negotiators. He has said that the Tories intend to build 40 new hospitals, but they’ve only got real funding for six, and about 120 hospitals are also set to close. They’ve also claimed that they’re not privatising the NHS, but the majority of services are now contracted to private healthcare companies. Tweezer lied so much that a London Ska band released a song attacking her for her mendacity, suitably called ‘Liar, Liar’.

And remember when Dodgy Dave Cameron and Iain Duncan Cough were campaigning for the 2010 election, and were leading campaigns to save hospitals from closure? That lasted all the way until Cameron got into No. 10. As did his promise to lead the ‘greenest government ever’. The environment was going to be protected, right up to the point where he became Prime Minister.

And this is another empty promise from a government known for lying.

Tories Planning to Sell Out NHS to Trump

October 31, 2019

Mike covered this story a few days ago, but it’s another one that bears repeating: the Tories want to privatise the NHS and sell it off to American corporations.

This was revealed on Monday night’s Dispatches programme on Channel 4, broadcast at 8 pm. The description of the programme in that day’s I ran

Earlier this year, Donald Trump sparked a row when he said that the NHS would be “on the table” in any future trade talks between the UK and America – swiftly performing a U-turn over his comments. Now Antony Barnett shows that US drug giants are busy lobbying trade negotiators in Washington and London to make the health service pay more for their medicines and to ban cheaper alternatives.

This is another story which Mike covered on his blog, reproducing the tweets issued by Dispatches showing that there had been six secret meetings in both London and Washington about this, and that they began under Tweezer. See https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/29/shock-revelation-liar-boris-johnson-has-been-secretly-selling-out-the-nhs/

This should come as no surprise. The Tories voted against Labour’s bill setting up the NHS, even after claiming that they welcomed it. A few years later under Harold Macmillan, the Tory Right tried to privatise it on the grounds that we could not afford it. And Thatcher wanted to privatise it, but was prevented by a cabinet revolt. Since then there has been an encroaching privatisation of the NHS by both the Tories and New Labour. It’s described in Ray Tallis’ book, NHS – SOS, and I’ve self-published a book on Lulu and a small desktop pamphlet discussing this. There have also been a series of short videos presented by Stephen Fry on YouTube against the Tory attempts to sell out our NHS to the Americans. In one of them, the former presenter of QI tells you that under the American private healthcare system, simply being taken to hospital in an ambulance can cost you £200. The Tories have been lying for years that the NHS is safe with them, but the truth is that they have consistently run it down, closing hospitals and A&E departments, all while claiming that they are doing no such thing. Or are actually going to reverse this policy. Remember when Dave Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith were running around protesting against Blair’s hospital closures when they were in opposition? Soon as Cameron got his foot in the front door of No. 10, that policy was reversed and they went on closing hospitals and outsourcing services to private healthcare companies.

You cannot trust the Tories with the NHS – not now, not ever. If you want to continue having a National Health Service that provides everyone in Britain with healthcare, free at the point of service, you have to vote for Corbyn and Labour.

If you vote for the Tories, you are voting for a private system, which will profit the big healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, but will be unaffordable to a large part of the British people. Can you afford private health insurance?

 

Labour Promises State Pharmaceutical Company to Guarantee Affordable Drugs

September 25, 2019

This is really going to drive the Tories and the private healthcare companies that are funding them and dictating policy on the NHS up the wall. According to today’s I for 25th September 2019, Jeremy Corbyn has declared that Labour would set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company to make sure everyone had access to affordable medicines. It’s discussed in the article ‘Corbyn vows to ‘put power back into the hands of the people’ by Nigel Morris on page 17. The article states

Jeremy Corbyn announced that Labour would would set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company to provide cheaper life-saving medicines to all patients regardless of their wealth.

Insisting that the “tide is turning” against the Conservatives, he urged activists to prepare for an election victory that would “put the power back into the hands of the people.”

The Labour leader, whose address was brought forward 24 hours following the Supreme Court judgment on the Prime Minister’s decision to close parliament, won cheers as he denounced pharmaceutical companies which deny vital medicines to ill patients by charging extortionate prices.

And he promised that Labour would redesign the system to “serve public health, not private health” by ensuring all patients had access to generic versions of patented medicines.

Mr Corbyn cited the case of nine-year old with cystic fibrosis, Luis Walker, who is denied the drug he needs because its manufacturer refuses to provide it at a modest price. “Luis, and tens of thousands of others suffering from illnesses like cystic fibrosis, hepatitis C and breast cancer, are being denied life-saving medicines by a system that puts profits for share-holders before people’s lives,” he said.

This is excellent, but it’s really going to rile Trump and his attempts to get his hand on Britain’s NHS. The exorbitant prices charged by the pharmaceutical industry is a continuing scandal in America. A few years ago, Martin Shkreli, the head of one of the American drug companies, found himself vilified when it was revealed that under him his company and massively increased a drug used to treat AIDS to several hundred dollars per tablet from only a couple of dollars. The reason? He didn’t want it bought by poor Indians. The American private healthcare system is such an expensive sham that one of the campaign groups put a video about it up on YouTube, narrated by Stephen Fry. This opened by revealing that in America, simply calling an ambulance can get you charged $200 +. The whole point of the video was to warn people about the dangers to the NHS posed by the Fuhrage and the Brexit party. Farage is in favour of introducing private healthcare, like America. And Trump wants to get his mitts on the NHS. One of the things that annoys him about the NHS, quite apart from the fact that it’s supposed to provide free healthcare, is that it also acts at the moment to stop the American pharmaceutical companies charging what they like. Farage, of course, isn’t the only right-winger to hate the NHS. So do the Tories and the Blairites. They’re just quieter about it.

The only people you can trust with the NHS is Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

The article also mentioned some of the other policies Labour were putting forward, stating that Corbyn had received standing ovation after standing ovation for them. In the words of the article, Corbyn

vowed to repeal Thatcherite trade union legislation, introduce a £10 an hour living wage, nationalise railways, mail, water and the National Grid, and trigger a “record investment blitz ” in the UK’s infrastructure.

The Labour leader denounced Boris Johnson as part of “an elite that disdains democracy” who was not fit to be in Downing Street and demanded his resignation.

All absolute correct. And you can see how much the Tories disdain democracy by the frenzied denunciations of the 11 Supreme Court judges by the Tory press. Who really can’t stand the fact that we live in a constitutional country, governed by the rule of law, rather than the arbitrary whim of an unelected populist leader. Like Putin. Or Boris as he’d like to be.

We definitely need Corbyn to be put in No. 10. The health of our people, and the prosperity of our country, and the security of our democracy absolutely depends on it.

 

Johnson’s Yellowhammer Coup – Prepared by New Labour?

September 22, 2019

This fortnight’s Private Eye, for 20th September – 3rd October 2019, carries an article on page 12 confirming that Project Yellowhammer includes plans to draft military personnel into the ranks of local government officials in the event of chaos following a No Deal Brexit. The article also claims that this is based on legislation, which includes the suspension of civil liberties,  passed 15 years ago by New Labour. The article, titled ‘Not-So-Secret Army’ runs

The last Eye reported on Operation Yellowhammer’s contingency plans for the army to take over local government in the event of a “no deal” Brexit. In response to the article, various navy and air force officers have come forward to confirm that they too have received instructions to take over key civilian posts in local government under the Yellowhammer plans.

Furthermore, they take issue with ministers’ pretence that the leaked August document was already “out of date” and had since been updated. “Many of these documents haven’t been updated since May, or even March,” one officer says, “because we kept being told that it looked bad to be seen to be making preparations for ‘No deal’ when the government wasn’t really expecting ‘No deal’; and so we were told to stop making preparations.

The placements are being made under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which provides for emergency transfers of power between public servants. While there has been feverish speculation among Leavers and Remainers as to what would happen if the act were ever invoked, it ignores the fact that Yellowhammer already involves triggering the act.

As was pointed out by peers and constitutional experts at the time of its passing, the legislation is severely flawed. Once triggered, it allows the government to bypass parliament and over-ride existing legislation by having “a senior Minister of the Crown” issue “temporary emergency regulations”, valid for 30-day renewable stretches. It even enables habeas corpus to be over-ridden – as well as the Bill of Rights, the succession ot the monarchy, the five-year time limit on parliaments and the checks on a prime minister’s power to appoint an unlimited number of peers. Back in 2004, these were all specific areas where Tory and Lib Dem peers tried to insert some safeguards, but without success.

Fifteen years on, Labour politicians may now be kicking themselves for having passed this legislation, which would give Boris Johnson and his inner circle such far-reaching powers after any “no deal” Brexit.

In my last piece about the Project Yellowhammer plans, I compared it to the way the Nazis seized power in Weimar Germany using legislation that provided for dictatorial rule during a state of emergency. Cooperation between the four parties that had provided democratic government during the Weimar Republic – the Social Democrats, the Catholic Centre Party and the two Liberal parties – had broken down. The Reichstag was at an impasse and the President, Hindenberg, was ruling by decree. He invited the Nazis into power to break the deadlock. They used the Reichstag fire to declare a state of emergency, and immediately seized power. In the following weeks the other parties and the trade unions were banned, Hitler declared Fuhrer, and the anti-Semitic legislation put in place. Jews, gypsies and political prisoners were rounded up and sent to the concentration camps. This further information on the legislation underpinning Yellowhammer makes the similarities even closer. Frighteningly closer.

However, if the article is trying to discredit the Labour, it doesn’t quite manage it. The Civil Contingencies Act was passed by Blair, Brown and New Labour. Who were very definitely authoritarian, as shown by Blair’s determination to silence and expel any opposition within the party. And which is shown today by the Blairites’ determination to do the same to Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, using fake accusations of anti-Semitism. Blair was a Thatcherite, and his policies reflected the demands of the right-wing political and industrial elite. He ignored the party’s base in favour of political donors, who were allowed to shape government policy and even staff government departments. He obeyed the City’s demands for light financial regulation, listened to the same right-wing think tanks and private healthcare companies that influenced Peter Lilley and John MajorAnd he was also guided by the right-wing, Tory press, particularly Murdoch’s vile rags. New Labour under Blair was another Tory party.

Blair was also anti-democratic in that he tried to pass legislation establishing secret courts, in which the normal laws of evidence did not apply if the government decided that it was for reasons of national security. The press and public were to be excluded from these trials. Defendants and their counsel need not be told, contrary to natural justice, who their accuser was or what the evidence against them was.

But Blair was not alone in trying to pass this. When they got in, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition actually did it.

And the coalition also removed the right of habeas corpus

So much for the Tories’ and Lib Dems’ concern to preserve  constitutional government and Britons’ historic civil liberties.

Since then, however, the leadership of the Labour party has changed. And Jeremy Corbyn has a very strong record of voting against the government, including Blair’s. If anyone can be trusted to block the operation of this pernicious legislation, it’s him. Despite the fact that Eye has been as bug-eyed as the rest of the press in trying to smear him as an evil Communist/ Trotskyite/ Stalinist, who will stamp his iron heel on this country’s free people. Particularly the Jews.

The truth is undoubtedly the opposite. Against this government and this plan, the only people who are going to stand up to preserve democracy is a Corbyn-led Labour party. It certainly will not be the Tories under Generalissimo Boris and their collaborators, Swinson’s Lib Dems. 

 

The Tories and Blairites Cannot Be Trusted to Defend the NHS from Trump

June 11, 2019

Last week the orange generalissimo managed to cause massive offence and outrage on his state visit here. And it wasn’t just for merely being present, although that was certainly a major factor in the protests his visit provoked. No, Trump and his spokesman were touting for a trade deal with Britain after Brexit. And he demanded that ‘everything should be on the table’, including healthcare.

Which means the NHS.

MPs from all sides of the House immediately swung into action to condemn the Fascist cheeto’s demands that the NHS should be opened up to private American healthcare companies. There were a string of high profile Tory MPs, including former health secretary Andrew Lansley, loudly denouncing Trump’s demand, and stating that they weren’t going to include the NHS as part of the Brexit deal and were going to defend this most precious of British institutions. Lansley in particular was scathing about Trump’s opposition to the way the NHS controlled drug prices. He was afraid that if Trump has his way, this would be discarded to allow predatory American pharmaceutical companies to charge excessive and unaffordable prices for needed drugs.

He’s absolutely right.

One of the current scandals with the American private, insurance-driven healthcare system is that the drug companies can and do charge whatever they like for their products, which means that these are often beyond the ability of ordinary Americans to afford. I’ve blogged on here about a piece from The Young Turks about how Americans are hoarding drugs or buying those intended for animals from vets because they can’t afford them. And the worst example of a drug company actually raising prices is the case of Martin Shkreli. When he took over one company, he raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to well over $300 a pill. He said he only wanted rich Americans to be able to use it, not poor Indians. He was rightly massively vilified for his gross racism and profiteering, but continued to defend himself, as he really couldn’t see that he had done anything wrong.

But while it’s heartening to see all these politicians stand up to defend the health service, I don’t believe them. With one exception, of course: Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories and the Blairites simply can’t be trusted to defend the NHS because they haven’t done it up to now. Indeed, they’ve done the exact opposite, all the while denying it.

Remember how Maggie Thatcher loudly declared that the NHS was ‘safe with us’, and she would keep her wretched claws off it. She even put it in her memoirs, denouncing the claims of the Labour party that she was planning to privatise the health service as lies. But she herself was lying. Cabinet minutes released a couple of years ago showed that she very much wanted to privatise the NHS. She was only stopped because of a massive cabinet revolt and the fact that her Personal Private Secretary, Patrick Jenkin, had visited the US and had seen personally what a travesty American private healthcare was.

So she satisfied herself with cutting its budget and trying to encourage Brits to take out private health insurance instead. She was aiming for about 11 per cent of the British population to take out such insurance.

She was followed by John Major, whose health secretary Peter Lilley was, I believe, one of the others who attacked Trump’s demand for a slice of NHS action. But Lilley was responsible for the Private Finance Initiative, under which private firms were to be allowed to bid for NHS contracts and building and running hospitals in partnership with the government. It was deliberately introduced with the intention of opening up the health service to private healthcare companies. And Lilley was advised in his health policies by John Lo Casio of the American private health insurance fraudster, Unum.

Well, the government changed with Labour’s 1997 electoral victory, but the Thatcherite privatisation of the NHS remained on course. Blair was an unashamed Thatcherite, and she had reciprocated his feelings by calling him and New Labour her greatest achievement. Blair also took over Lo Casio and Unum as his advisers on health policy, and continued the stealth privatisation of the NHS. The Community Care Groups of GPs he set up to contract in healthcare services were given the power to purchase it from the private sector and to raise funding privately themselves. The health centres and polyclinics he set up were to be run by private healthcare firms, like Circle Health, BUPA and Beardie Branson’s Virgin Health. NHS contracts, including out of hours services in many regions were privatised and the contracts awarded to private healthcare firms.

And yes, American healthcare firms were among them. Private Eye reported how Blair was surrounded by American public sector contractors, all lobbying for their share of British state business. Like the private American prison company, Wackenhut. And this included private healthcare companies. Blair was particularly impressed by the private American healthcare provider, Keyserpermanente, which he thought provided better value for money than the traditional NHS structure. It doesn’t, but that was ignored, and the American company provided the model for his NHS reforms. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted the NHS to become nothing but a kitemark for services provided by private companies.

And this continued under David Cameron and Tweezer. Despite the loud shouts by Lansley and Jeremy Hunt that they ‘treasure’ the NHS, both of them preferred private healthcare and previously stated that they wanted the NHS effectively abolished and the lines blurred between state and private provision. There’s also a solid block of Tory politicians that would like the NHS sold off completely. Like the Devon Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, dubbed by Guy Debord’s Cat ‘the Lyin’ King’ because of his gross mendacity. The majority of NHS contracts are being awarded to private healthcare firms, rather than kept in-house, and they have been angling to win the contracts for whole regions. Which brings the complete privatisation of the NHS even closer.

Andrew Lansley’s convoluted Health and Social Care Act of 2012 also enabled its privatisation by removing the obligation of the health secretary to provide healthcare to everyone in the UK, which had been a statutory requirement since the founding of the NHS in 1948. The Tories have also consistently voted to introduce charges for certain NHS services. Mike over at Vox Political has frequently given the voting record of some of the worst Tories, who have not only done this, but also supported other attacks on the poor like cutting welfare services, raising tuition fees and supporting the bedroom tax.

And I don’t trust the Lib Dems either. They went into coalition with the Tories and did absolutely nothing as their partners in government continued to attack the welfare state and the NHS. Indeed some of them, like the former MP for Taunton Dean, strongly supported it.

I have to say that I think that the outrage from the Tories at Trump’s demands is largely hypocritical. They’d very much like to make a deal with Trump, that includes the NHS along with other essential services that should only be run by the state. But, as with the cabinet revolt against Thatcher, they’re afraid that if they agree, they will be voted out in a devastating landslide, possibly never to get back into power.

The only person, who can be trusted to defend the NHS and keep it safe from Trump and the other privatisers, is Jeremy Corbyn.

Don’t trust the Tories. They still want to and  are privatising the NHS. Nor the Lib Dems or ‘Centrist’ Labour, who are exactly the same. The only real hope of defending and reviving the NHS is with Corbyn and the victory of a genuine, socialist Labour party at the next election. 

Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

June 4, 2019

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.